PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - “In the medical field, especially in trauma situations, you have a goal of what’s called the ‘golden hour’ from the time of injury to the time you get to see a doctor,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Jennings, 934th Forward Surgical Team member and a licensed practical nurse from Deweyville, Utah. “Patients who arrive within that one-hour window have a much greater chance of recovery. Without an FST in place, a soldier could go a long time before they see a surgeon or an operating room and it’d be a lot harder for that person to meet that critical golden hour goal and get the treatment they deserve.”
Members of the 934th FST, a U.S. Army Reserve unit deployed from Salt Lake City to Forward Operating Base Sharana are learning how to maximize the quality of care provided to the patients who come to them.
Their vitally important mission is unique, interesting and constantly requires unit members to be on their toes.
Just ask them.
“An FST is designed to be a mobile unit,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Austin Adamson, 934th FST executive officer from Preston, Idaho. “It used to be, an FST would roll out with infantry units as they advanced through a battle space. That’s how it’s been for other deployments this unit has been on. But the mission here is different. Coalition forces aren’t necessarily advancing across terrain here, so instead, we stay back and stand by to assist the wounded should they arrive.”
The mission of the 934th FST is to provide traumatic life, limb or eyesight care to coalition force units, local nationals, Afghan national security force members and anyone else affected by the actions of war, regardless of how or by whom they were hurt.
The FST also provides follow up care to many of the patients they treat; helping to ensure the patient receives the greatest possibility of healing from what ails them.
The team is made up of approximately two dozen nurses, surgical technicians and paramedics as well as a group of medical doctors and nurse anesthetists who rotate in and out of theater.
Even though they’re not on the physical front lines of battle, the team’s daily actions positively affect the war effort significantly.
The FST serves as the first care center between the battlefield and a full-service military hospital for coalition forces, said Adamson.
“Medics who are out in the field with the maneuver units encounter patients on a daily basis, whether they are coalition forces, our Afghan security counterparts or local nationals who have been injured,” Adamson said. “After initial treatment, they are transported by medical evacuation (air) or casualty evacuation (ground) to our facility where they are stabilized and then pushed on to the appropriate higher level of care, whether that is a military facility or an Afghan hospital.”
Naturally, as the base continues to expand, so does the role of the FST.
“When we first arrived a few months ago, half the team we were replacing was here and half were at another base in a different province to the south,” said Adamson. “We got here, to a rapidly-expanding base, and were told we’d be consolidated into one full FST that wouldn’t be separated. It’s a very unique challenge we have here, but a good challenge.”
Though the unit is still considered an FST, the operations tempo and patient care load mirror care rendered at much larger medical units.
“We’re kind of growing towards being a combat support hospital,” Adamson said. “A full CSH would have certain services available, such as dental and other specialties that we don’t have here, so we’re kind of growing towards a CSH minus. But we’re getting busy, and our unit is doing some great work to help the Afghan people.”
To further augment the team, the FST unit was augmented shortly after arrival by both Air Force nurses and medical technicians as well as Army critical care nurses, who, among other duties, help transport patients from the FST to a higher level of care.
The members of the FST didn’t show up in Afghanistan unprepared, however.
To prepare for the changing dynamics of their current role, the entire unit, prior to leaving for their deployment, spent two weeks working at an advanced trauma care center in Miami.
“I think mentally and clinically, the training in Miami kind of gave us a picture of what this deployment was going to be like, and now that I’m here, I’d say it was pretty close,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benjamin Chou, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Advanced Trauma Life Support section of the FST from Salt Lake City. “The mechanisms of injury are different, but there were definitely a lot of traumatic injuries with which to practice our skills. Here, though, it’s a more hands-on environment in working with the patient.”
The training undertaken in Miami benefited the entire unit, even those whose role doesn’t necessarily lead to direct patient care.
“The time we spent in the trauma center was eye-opening, especially for me, not coming from a patient-care medical background,” said Adamson, who is a school psychologist when not activated with the unit. “In Miami, we developed cohesion and we got to see and practice the steps involved with trauma care. There is a specific chain of events trauma workers try to follow on every patient they see. Trauma departments try to follow the same procedures with each patient to make sure the most important life-saving interventions are not overlooked.”
The lessons learned during their short tour at the Miami trauma center were not forgotten by unit members upon deploying.
“After each trauma we see, we do an after action report and make sure we hit those steps we learned in Miami,” Adamson said. “We have a standard of care we know our patients deserve, so after each patient, we ask ourselves what could’ve gone better. Our work here is already what we like to consider above and beyond the call of duty, but now we are working towards the ultimate goal of becoming a utopia of sorts, or the best FST possible.”
One issue the unit deals with is the hurry-up-and-wait nature that can be their job at times.
“Sure, sometimes there are times when it’s quiet in here,” Adamson said. “But it changes every day, because there are times when it’s really exciting and there are all sorts of things going on at the same time. We help people and we save lives when called upon. We are all on call 24 hours a day in case we’re needed and every patient we treat is in great hands.”
“The best part of this job is we’re in a different country helping people,” said Chou. “This deployment has been a great experience because everyone, by working in close proximity with each other, learns something new every day. It’s giving me a pretty good opportunity to see what happens to a patient after you drop them off at a hospital. As a combat medic, I’m trained to stabilize the patient, drop them off at a hospital, and then other people take it from there; so this deployment has helped me understand what happens to a patient after we drop them off at a hospital which in turn helps me provide better treatment to my patients before they ever get to the hospital.”
“It feels like 'The Little Engine that Could' around here sometimes,” said U.S. Army Capt. Roger Beaulieu, a native of Moorpark, Calif., and the FST commander. “This unit definitely takes after our symbol, the beehive. We are all hard workers who do whatever it takes to help each other and get the mission done.”
So for Afghan civilians, coalition forces, or anyone else who may be hurt within the 934th FST’s reach, they can take comfort in the fact they are in the hands of a dedicated bunch of professionals who will do everything in their power to help, heal and repair them as close to their former state as possible.
And that’s a golden promise.
This work, 934th FST: Waiting patiently to save your life, by Capt. Mark Lazane, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.